PITTSFIELD – Volunteering makes Liana Toscanini feel useful, and her marketing background gives her the skills small nonprofits look for when they seek exposure in a crowded employment area in Berkshire.
Put those two together, and you’ve got someone with the desire and the expertise to form the Berkshires Nonprofit Center, which Toscanini did in 2016. The Great Barrington-based agency is designed to facilitate the growth of charitable organizations through shared resources, affordable services. and creative collaborations. Executive Director of the agency, Toscanini’s presence is also felt at the state level. Former Director of Marketing and Fundraising for Community Access to the Arts in Great Barrington, Toscanini is currently the Berkshire County Representative on the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network Board of Directors.
Born in New York and currently living in Sandisfield, Toscanini is also the great-granddaughter of famous Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, whom she has never met, but whom she knows intimately through her family history. .
We caught up with Toscanini recently to talk about his passion for volunteering, his reasons for starting the non-profit center and some interesting information about his famous great-grandfather.
Q: Why did you create the Berkshires Non-Profit Center?
A: I came here 25 years ago now and have volunteered so much that I have become the volunteer who can’t say no. There was a particular two-week period in 2016 where six or seven people contacted me to help me write a grant or advertise whatever it was. They would corner me in the produce aisle, mostly grabbing me at the grocery store and saying ‘you have to help us’. I thought someone had pinned a sign on my back that said “ask me and I’ll help you”.
Q: So what happened next?
A: I thought there had to be a better way to give these people the help they need without these attacks at the grocery store. I had sort of had an idea of an advocacy commission ten years ago, because I knew people needed everything I could do, just marketing, basically telling your story. . … I spent my entire Christmas vacation writing a business plan for the nonprofit center. Some, but not all, have come true. I was planning to have 150 members and I think I will have 150 by the end of the year.
Q: Why have so many people asked for your help?
A: Because they heard that I help people with this and that and I’m the girl to go to and I always say yes. … Sometimes you have to learn to say no.
Q: The Berkshires nonprofit will turn four years old in April. Did you think he would come as far as he did so fast?
A: I have to say that I somehow exceeded my own expectations. I knew it was necessary because I spoke to about 50 people before starting it. I think the number of programs that we have launched and the type of solutions that we have proposed based on the needs that we have seen have been quite significant. I’m really happy with the value we’ve brought to the table.
Q: What services does the non-profit center provide?
A: The things that were most valuable was this “Giving Back” guide, the directory of nonprofit organizations. Definitely the education workshops – we’re now up to two per month – and various varieties of education like our non-profit boot camp. The Berkshire nonprofit (annual) awards are a big deal. … It should be noted that I am only looking for the holes and filling them. … People tell us what they need and we see the hole and we fill it. I wanted a directory of associations when I started and there wasn’t one so I created it.
Q: Why are these resources needed here?
A: I would say this is due to the current Berkshire nonprofit sector. It’s huge, and we’re in this funky, tricky county, which makes it harder to come together and share resources and collaborate. If you have a collaboration with someone in Williamstown, the solution is to meet you in Pittsfield, a 45 minute drive each way. So if you are a non-profit person with few resources, taking two hours out of your day just to drive is crazy.
Q: Given the economic impact the nonprofit sector is already having on the Berkshires, I guess most people already know a lot about these organizations. But this is not the case ?
A: Awareness is a huge issue because 75% of our nonprofits are small, which means their annual turnover is less than $ 250,000. It’s 700 or 800 non-profit organizations, some of which are all run by volunteers. They go unnoticed, and if you go unnoticed, you are not attracting donations. So these two things are directly related, marketing and fundraising. That was actually my title for 10 years at Community Access to the Arts, director of marketing and fundraising. I had seen with my own eyes how much these things depend on each other.
Q: Does the non-profit center plan to introduce any new programs?
A: What people are asking for are more networking opportunities. They want to have an educational or inspiring element as a bonus: It could be a quarterly lecture series featuring someone who can offer wise advice so they walk away with a nugget of something. They won’t go out just for a glass of wine.
Q: Are you music-loving like your great-grandfather?
A: Years ago, I sang in a choir and took piano lessons, so I’m musical. But I don’t really have time to do it a lot.
Q: Is music a common thread in your family?
A: It’s a pretty big legacy. My father was called the professional grandson. He literally had to speak at giant events, every birthday, 50 years later [Arturo Toscanini’s] died (who was 89 when he died in 1957). People always asked [my father] to write articles. So it’s a big job. We (Toscanini and her two younger sisters) were kind of relieved about this. … There’s a biographer and basically a lawyer and these two already know everything there is to know and answer all the questions. … It continues to be a responsibility, but my father didn’t want us to have to take on all of this. I inherited everything [Arturo Toscanini’s] papers. … I’ve been asked two or three times this year for photos of various members of my family. … I’m going to dig in the attic and take these things out.
Question: I have read that Toscanini conducted the New York Philharmonic from 1928 to 1936 and performed with orchestras all over the world except those in Italy and Germany under the fascist and Nazi regimes. . Is there something about her that most people don’t know?
A: In the 1930s he conducted the Palestine Symphony Orchestra for free, their first performance, which saved many Jewish musicians. He made it primarily as a political statement. One of the members had enlisted him and he did so with pleasure. It’s a very beautiful story, actually. There are pictures of him being presented with oranges and stuff.
Question: Why was conducting the Palestine Symphony Orchestra a political statement?
A: Mainly because he was an anti-fascist. And he had so many Jewish musician friends. It was really about doing the right thing.
Question: Was he forced to flee Italy during the war?
A: Yes, he was beaten up one day for not playing the fascist anthem before the performances. Mussolini was probably following him and recording him. … He was the conductor of the Salzburg Festival, but after Hitler took over Austria he stopped conducting there. I think it was because Winifred Wagner was a friend of Adolf Hitler. [Wagner and Toscanini] were friends too. I think I have a small blue porcelain pillbox from Winifred Wagner to Arturo. People were giving him gifts from everywhere. … He returned to Italy after the war but came back here. I don’t know if he became a (US) citizen. He died in the Bronx.